|photo by Bruce-Michael Gelbert
watching fireworks from the Community House roof
On June 8, at the Community House, Cherry Grove celebrated the life of Grove Archivist and Archbishop, scenery designer extraordinaire, and premier Walt Disney fan Harold Seeley, who passed away on January 7, 2012 at the age of 72, in exactly the way that Harold had wanted to be memorialized: with fond remembrances by community leaders, family, friends, and neighbors; the spreading of a portion of his ashes; the distribution of bequests to Grove organizations; a community dinner and dessert; and a spectacular fireworks display.
A function of the Arts Project of Cherry Grove (APCG), the evening was billed as “A Community Celebration and Benefit Honoring the Legacy of Harold Seeley and His Contributions to Cherry Grove” and was paid for by his estate, with additional proceeds donated to the Cherry Grove Community Association, Inc.’s (CGCAI) Save Our Community House (SOCH) campaign.
Michael Coffindaffer, former APCG President, opened the proceedings saying, “It was always Harold’s desire to throw a big party for Cherry Grove,” and continuing, “I think of Harold as a magic genie who generously shared his talents and time with Cherry Grove” and particularly with the theater. Michael closed by reading pertinent lines from the Disney song “A Whole New World,” with Harold’s creative vision taking us on a “magic carpet ride.”
Lou Seeley, Harold’s younger brother, said, “He’d always be there for you, no matter what. He was the best big brother,” and added, “He loved Cherry Grove, doing the Bishop for all those years, doing the shows.”
“It’s really a pleasure to be part of this celebration of Harold’s life,” said CGCAI President Diane Romano. As Archivist, “Harold preserved our history,” she went on, and announced that, coinciding with LGBT Pride Month, the National Parks Service had added the Community House to its registry of historic sites just the day before, thanks, in part, to United States Senator for New York Kirsten Gillibrand’s efforts. “Our theater is making history. We couldn’t have done it without Harold,” Diane declared, and mentioned that the space housing the archives will be renamed the Harold Seeley Archive Room. She concluded, “I want to thank Harold for all that he has done to make Cherry Grove a better place to live.”
Carl Luss, who prepared the proposals to put the Community House on the registries of historic sites, presented two copies of the National Parks registry papers to Harold’s family, saying, “Harold Seeley was a hoarder—in the best and most productive senses of the word—of Cherry Grove memorabilia” and had also worked to preserve the historic aspects of the House.
The introduction of Cherry Grove Homecoming Queen 2013 Shirley Shapiro followed.
The Cherry Grove Fire Department’s Arthur Cohen, responsible for working the theater curtains during APCG shows, welcomed Harold’s family and pointed out, “Harold had another family—all of us!” It was Harold, Arthur said, who taught him how to manage the curtains, and he ended with, “All I can say is, Harold, I love you.”
APCG President Thom “Panzi” Hansen mentioned that people would often volunteer for APCG, move a few chairs, and disappear. On the other hand, “Harold came and volunteered for 35 years.” The most frequent things Panzi recalled Harold saying to him were, “Why are you throwing that away—and why are you throwing THAT away?” and added, “They say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure—and need I say more?” Harold’s favorite Arts Project show, Panzi recalled, was “Circus Circus,” in 1982, for which Harold built an entire circus in the theater, and noted that, as Bishop and then Archbishop of the Grove, Harold was the first person not cross-dressing who was allowed on the Fourth of July Grove Invasion of the Pines ferry. “If ever there’s a person that stands for Cherry Grove, it’s Harold Seeley,” Panzi wound up.
Sporting a denim jacket that Harold had given him, Bill Perez said, “The place he loved most is this theater” and “He liked to dress up as Disney characters, especially Mickey Mouse.” Bill closed with a recitation of the lyrics of the “Mickey Mouse Club” theme song, with most of us joining in.
Accompanied by a silhouette of Mickey’s head, Joan Van Ness gave us the dictionary definition of history—“something important enough to be recorded”—which she found relevant to Harold. “His time in Cherry Grove was spent 98 percent in the Community House,” Joan said, and where Carl had called him a hoarder, Joan’s preferred designation was, “He was a squirrel.” Filled with treasures that had belonged to Grove performers who appeared there, “Harold’s proscenium that surrounds us here is a testimony to Harold’s love for tucking things away.” She wrapped up with, “I know that Harold’s spirit is now soaring with Mickey and he is having the time of his life!”
Michael announced that it was Harold’s wish that half his ashes be buried in the Community House garden and the other half, in Disneyland, and we adjourned to the garden, in front of the house, where Lou placed that portion of the ashes.
When we went back inside, Donald Labohn, director of the Doctor’s Fund benefit shows, for which Harold designed the scenery, took the stage and said, “Harold was the dearest person in the world, as far as I’m concerned. He gave me my first job [in design] when I was 19, 50 years ago … and the day after he gave me that job, his hair turned white.” He continued, “Harold was my savior, as far as the Doctor’s Fund show is concerned,” and mentioned that his favorites among Harold’s creations were the King Kong arm that held Shirley Shapiro as Fay Wray; the circus wagon, which was preserved and used for an APCG ball; and the human carousel of performers. Donald added, “He is now making Heaven so much more beautiful!”
Michael then announced Harold’s organization bequests, with Lou handing the checks to their representatives. These were $10,000 each to APCG, accepted by Panzi, who said it would help to replace APCG property that was damaged by Super Storm Sandy; to CGCAI, accepted by Diane Romano, who said it would go toward creating the Harold Seeley Archive Room; to the Cherry Grove Dunes Fund, accepted by Don Hester, who said that the “money will be used to help keep Cherry Grove from future devastation;” and the Cherry Grove Memorial Fund, accepted by Al Wolff.
Dinner, dessert, and a spectacular display of fireworks over the Great South Bay, with some of them in the shape of the initials HS, followed.